1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment, part of the pre-war Jullundur Brigade in the Lahore Division of the Indian Army Corps, had fought in the battles of the Western Front since the end of September 1914 and then went to Mesopotamia in January 1916. Heavy fighting had been in progress for some time before their arrival with the object of effecting the relief of the troops besieged in Kut el Amara. When the Manchesters joined the Army in camp the bulk of the force was on the left bank of the River Tigris above the River Wadi, while the advanced troops were already in contact with the Turkish Army entrenched in their Umm-el-Hannah position.
Situated between a flooded swamp and the great waterway, the Turkish position consisted of five lines of trenches, each some 200 yards behind the other and connected by numerous saps. This formidable maze had been attacked after very inadequate artillery preparation. The Es Sinn position constituted the main Turkish line of defence of which the central defensive point in the Turkish defences was a considerable work called the Dujailah Redoubt. On the night of the 7th/8th March the 3rd Division marched from Abu Roman Camp towards the Es Sinn position. The original intention had been to march off at 9pm but the start was not made until 10pm due to the late arrival of the three batteries of artillery intend to accompany the column. Another column was delayed and positions were not reached until daybreak. The intended advantage of surprise was lost and the Turkish garrison of the redoubt was substantially reinforced.
After moving on about a mile in support of the artillery, the 8th Brigade, of which the Manchesters were a part, dug in at 8am. Owing to a stoppage in the pumps near Thorny Nullah the 8th Brigade had left camp the night before without filling their water bottles. On top of this discomfort: after digging themselves in supporting the artillery; covering the flank of the 7th Brigade; then that of the 37th Brigade:they spent much of the day advancing, demonstrating and retiring. Eventually, shortly after 4am, they were ordered to attack the Dujailah Redoubt and to push the assault home at all costs.
The 37th Brigade on the left would attack at the same time. The 8th Brigade formed up, the Manchesters and 59th Rifles in the first line with the Manchesters on the left. The 2nd Rajputs were in support with the 47th Sikhs forming a third line and prepared to act against any enemy counter-attack from the enemy's left. The 36th and 28th Brigades were ordered to support 8th Brigade by attacking from the south - but they were delayed by the forward trenches in front of their position.
A front of 400 yards was allotted to the Manchesters, with No. 1 Company on the right, No. 2 on the left, supported by No. 3 Company 400 yards in rear, and No. 4 in local reserve some 600 yards behind No. 3.The advance began and after the first 1,000 yards Turkish artillery brought a heavy fire on the advancing troops resulting in the first casualties. As they advanced the companies came under a cross-fire from the enemy trenches on either side of the redoubt. The artillery paid little or no attention to this and concentrated their fire on the redoubt itself. At the same time the supporting brigade failed to keep down the enemy's fire whilst a Turkish machine gun on the left rear caused many casualties.
At 5.20pm the Manchesters and the 59th Rifles gained a footing in the redoubt, followed closely by the 2nd Rajputs and a thin line of Gurkhas and Somersets from the left. Two lines of trenches were occupied but were found to be very deep, with a firing step and no parapet; they were almost invisible and every advantage had been taken by the defenders of the open slope leading up to them. Fighting continued but was hampered because of the setting sun which was full in the eyes of the attackers. After they went over the crest the redoubt men were enveloped in thick cloud of dust and smoke caused by the shell and machine gun fire. At 5.45pm a heavy counter-attack developed from the left flank where, being able to approach under cover, it was not noticed until too late and the Turks were able to use their grenades with great effect. At the same time the flanking Turkish fire was re-doubled, the position became untenable and the order was given for the force to withdraw.
It was then that 15818 Private George Stringer of No. 1 Company carried out the deed for which he was to be remembered throughout the rest of his life. The citation for his Victoria Cross reads:
"For most conspicuous bravery and determination at Es Sinn, Mesopotamia on March 8 1916. After the capture of an enemy position he was posted on the extreme right of his Battalion to guard against any hostile attack. His Battalion was subsequently forced back by an enemy counter-attack, but Private Stringer held his ground single-handed and kept back the enemy until all his grenades were expended. His very gallant stand saved the flank of the Battalion and rendered a steady withdrawal possible.
Supplement to the London Gazette 5 August 1916"
All the ground gained was finally abandoned at dusk but throughout the night large parties were out collecting and bringing in the wounded. The Manchester Regiment casualties were 6 Officers and 31 NCOs and men killed or died of wounds; 2 Officers and 286 NCOs and men wounded; 5 Officers and 130 NCOs and men missing presumed dead.
Two weeks after the battle, Major General Keary, Commanding 3rd Division, wrote to Lt Col Hardscastle, the Manchesters' Commanding Officer:
"I wish to put on record my very high appreciation of the conduct of your Battalion in common with other battalions of the 8th (Jullundur) Brigade at the action of 8th March 1916. The attack on the Dujeilah Redoubt was most gallantly carried out and its capture was a notable achievement. The withdrawal form it was a military necessity which the 8th Brigade could not have averted. The steady manner in which the withdrawal was carried out is a further proof of the quality of the officers and men engaged.
I have already thanked you on parade and conveyed to you the Corps Commander's appreciation. Your achievement is honourable not only to yourselves but to the Division that I have the honour to command."
George Stringer's Victoria Cross and other medals are held on display in the Museum of The Manchesters (see Related Links for transfer to the Museum's own website).
An interesting ceremony was held in Manchester on Sunday 24th July 2011when memorial plaques were unveiled and dedicated to the memory of six soldiers buried in Philips Park Cemetery. Of particular interest was the memorial to George Stringer VC of 1st Manchesters and the Jullundur Brigade who was buried in the cemetery in 1956.
Commemorative plaques for the two VCs, George Stringer and William Jones of the 2/24th Regiment had originally been placed on the wall of the cemetery church in 1983. This building was demolished in the 1990’s and the plaques were removed for safe-keeping. They are now mounted on large blocks of granite at the cemetery main entrance. Additional plaques commemorate Richard Brown and John Richardson of the 11th Hussars who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, plus John Lyons and Joshua Lodge who had fought at Rorkes Drift with the 2/24th Regiment.
Attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester and the Lord Mayor of Manchester, the ceremony was the result of the initiative of Sergeant Andrew Tunnicliffe of Greater Manchester Police with considerable co-operation between the ‘Friends of Philips Park Cemetery’ and the City of Manchester. The clergy were led by the Rev Rogers Govender, Dean of Manchester. The Greater Manchester Police Band played throughout the Service which was attended by approximately 200 interested friends and families.
It was pleasing to see the great improvements which have been made to this 45 acre cemetery, which is now listed by English Heritage as a grade two site of special historical interest. Top marks to the ‘Friends of Philips Park Cemetery’ who have created a safe and welcoming and peaceful atmosphere to what in the recent past was a very uncared for site.
This article was produced by Captain (Retd) Robert Bonner, Custodian of the Museum of the Manchesters.